Once you've stepped into that arena, you can't go any further without discussing the films of directors Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and John Woo (to name a few). Then of course, you have to bring in Chow Yun-fat. While there are many other fantastic Hong Kong action actors, Chow rose quickly to the pinnacle, and became the actor most associated with the genre on North American shores.
It's hard to imagine Sleeping Dogs existing in a world where these filmmakers and their movies didn't exist. Where these directors pulled back the curtain on the seedy criminal element deep inside of Hong Kong, the game picks up and continues. While there are many terrific films that would go along nicely with this title, we're pegging Hard Boiled as the one to go with. In fact, without Hard Boiled, there would never have been Sleeping Dogs.
While John Woo certainly didn't invent Hong Kong action films, he certainly reveled in it. He was also instrumental in getting Chow Yun-fat to star in A Better Tomorrow, their first film together. The producers didn't think that the actor who was a household television star at the time, could provide the action and bravado the movie called for.
They were wrong. Afterwards, Woo and Chow went on a Scorses/De Niro string of hits including A Better Tomorrow 2, The Killer, Once A Thief, and Hard Boiled. They wouldn't work together again until Stranglehold in 2007, the video game sequel to Hard Boiled. Woo's films resembled the kung fu films of the 1970s, but with gunplay instead of martial arts, becoming "Gun Fu," a style that Woo originated.
Chow Yun-fat also enjoyed huge success outside of Woo's films, appearing in iconic Hong Kong films like City on Fire, Prison on Fire, God of Gamblers, Once A Thief, Tiger on Beat, and Treasure Hunt (a personal favorite), among many others. That's not to say that he carried the entire genre on his back, due to stellar performances from actors like Tony Leung, Philip Kwok, Danny Lee, and others, but Chow was a massive star in Hong Kong before he was wooed away by Hollywood.
It's a perfect dichotomy of the life of a gangster, as Tequila subsists mainly on, well ... tequila (mixed with ginger ale), jazz music and lives a spartan life, while Tony races around Hong Kong in a sporty red convertible, schmoozes with the upper echelon of the Triad structure and lives on a sailboat. Although both of them have to cross the lines they walk on: Tony has to carry out Triad orders, even though he's a cop, and Tequila is a loose cannon, as is evidenced by the body count he leaves behind in the opening scene.
Supposedly over 100,000 rounds of ammunition were used in this film, and upon watching it, you might think they were all used up in that teahouse scene. But there are bigger and badder sequences ahead involving the police and the Triad, including an extremely clever way to "kill" an informant. By the time the credits roll, you'll realize what a shame it is that Woo and Chow have never made a movie together since.
Where You Can Watch Hard Boiled
Do you have a Playstation 3 and a Collector's Edition copy of Stranglehold? Then congratulations! You already own the movie. Just load it up and play the film from the title screen. There are no frills, bonuses, or even fast forward and rewind tools, but it's right there on the same disc as the game.
Woo's films are tougher to find here in the States, with only Hard Target, Broken Arrow, and Red Cliff on Netflix. Your best bet for Hard Boiled is to pick up either the DVD (in standard and "ultimate edition" flavors, which adds a few mildly interesting features), or the Blu-ray. But it's a mixed bag of tricks as the Blu-ray transfer isn't stellar, but is still better than the DVD.
You can also find, although not with an HD transfer, the now out of print Criterion Collection version, which you can still find online for around $60. The best version out there might be on the Stranglehold Collector's Edition for the PS3, which is worth getting as Chow reprises his role as Tequila in the game, which was overseen by Woo. This version pops up on eBay all the time, and can be snagged for around $20.
However you find it, devote some serious time to Hard Boiled while you aren't driving from one end of Hong Kong to the other in Sleeping Dogs. You'll see how the two movies fit together so well that you'd expect to see Tequila himself strolling by in the precinct offices.
Kevin Kelly is a writer and pop culture junkie with a fixation on video games, movies, and board games. His writing has been seen at Moviefone, io9, Film School Rejects, TechRadar, Wizard World, G4, and The Austin Chronicle. He lives in Los Angeles and does not know how to surf. Follow him on Twitter @kevinkelly.